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Pedestrians in the US are Dying, but Governments Have Been Slow to Respond

Crossing the street in Los Angeles hasn't improved much since 2015 when Vision Zero was implemented.

Pedestrians are often forced to say a prayer before crossing the street in Los Angeles.

While cars have gotten safer over the last twenty years, being a pedestrian has actually become more dangerous. A recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report found that 5,987 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes in the United States in 2016, the highest figure since the early 1990s and a nine percent increase over the 2015 figure.

While some blame cell phones and distracted driving, others point out the role that alcohol plays in pedestrian fatalities—in 2016, alcohol was reportedly involved in 48 percent of pedestrian fatalities. Yet one risk factor continues to fly under-the-radar: poor public infrastructure. Officials from Los Angeles to Phoenix are grappling with sprawling grids that were built with cars, not pedestrians, in mind—and they are not always doing so successfully.

In 2015, The City of Los Angeles implemented its version of Vision Zero, an ambitious program that aims to eliminate all traffic deaths citywide by 2025. Following the lead of cities like New York and San Francisco, street safety improvements such as road diets, protected left turns, and leading pedestrian intervals are being introduced throughout Los Angeles. The early signs, however, haven’t been promising.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation released preliminary data indicating that, while traffic deaths decreased from 245 in 2017 to 240 in 2018, the number of deaths remains higher than in 2015, the year LA launched Vision Zero. Safety advocates claim that City Councilmembers have continued to ignore transportation department recommendations, throwing up roadblocks to well-laid plans.

The hesitancy of elected officials has already reared its ugly head once when the city backtracked on the road diet in Playa del Rey in 2017 over gripes of an anti-driver agenda. Without improved education campaigns and government commitment, the safety of Los Angeles residents will continue to suffer.

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